Movie Review – It

Pennywise is back and he ain’t clowning around this time

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Based on Stephen King’s popular novel of the same name, Andy Muschietti’s adaptation of It sees the town of Derry, Maine terrorised by a demonic clown called Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard). With a growing number of children strangely missing, unravelling the mystery of their disappearance falls to a group of young outsiders who call themselves the Losers Club.

If you’re expecting to be scared silly, It might not be what you’re looking for. Truth is, it’s more of an adventure than a straightforward horror, with a vibe more closely matched with Netflix’s recent nostalgia fest Stranger Things. There is still a dark edge to proceedings, but nothing here scared me in the same way The Conjuring 2 or The Witch did.

The line between gruesome and goofy is one that gets increasingly blurred as the film goes on, with the third act in particular becoming increasingly comical as Pennywise darts back and forth like a demented Ronald McDonald. The camerawork and editing here is disorienting to say the least, as limbs spin and spiral to the point that it is genuinely hard to follow what is happening.

The film is definitely more at ease with itself when the horror takes a backseat and the action focuses in on its magnetic cast of dynamic youngsters. There is something about them that meshes so well, giving It a warmth and energy that is hard to replicate or manufacture. Finn Wolfhard’s character is the undoubted standout – his cocksure and bespectacled Ritchie provides comic relief by the barrowful – whilst Sophia Lillis makes for a compelling Sissy Spacek meets Molly Ringwald heroine. Her sweet romance with Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the beating heart of this film.

There are few weak links, namely Wyatt Oleff’s Stanley, but it is refreshing for a film to be so wholeheartedly committed to its focus on a younger cast. Not once does It cut away to an authority figure or adult character; this is all about the kids and it is because of their brilliance that the film is worth checking out.

It is an uncommon occurrence in that it is a big-budget studio horror that doesn’t play it too safe; it is very gory in parts, has lots of swearing and the themes are heavy, especially surrounding Lillis’ character. It isn’t perfect – it is a little long and the jumps are signposted pretty clearly – but it has a little bit of something for everyone, whether that’s gooey monsters, young romance or the slavish period setting.

It is available in Australian cinemas from September 7 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 


Movie Review – Annabelle: Creation

The wheels on the Conjuring cinematic universe continue to turn in the perfectly passable spin-off prequel Annabelle: Creation.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Annabelle: Creation, the second spin-off on the possessed demonic doll, shifts to an earlier period to chart her terrifying origins. The plot sees rural dollmaker Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) and his wife Esther (Miranda Otto) open their home to Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) and six orphaned girls who are in need of a place to stay, but a dark secret from their past threatens to return to the fold and turn the peaceful ranch into a house of horrors.

With David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) at the helm, Annabelle: Creation successfully captures the same old school thrills and spills of the original Conjuring films, with everything from the period setting to the relatively slow pacing feeling decidedly old fashioned. The two main cast members – Talitha Bateman as a disabled girl called Janice and Lulu Wilson as her caring best friend Linda – are both effective leads and do a wonderful job of carrying the film, as the adult cast takes a backseat for most of the 109-minute runtime.

Sandberg’s direction is also a highlight; the relative newcomer mixes minimal CGI with focus pulls that engulf the frame in darkness and force the viewer to scan the screen for even the slightest hint of creepy goings-on. This is a film where the camerawork, editing and cinematography effectively draw you into the story, even if everything about the colour-by-numbers plot feels familiar.

Essentially Annabelle: Creation is a ghostly haunted house ride that runs on the rails and provides an intermittent, albeit predictable, jump scare or two before rolling back into the light of day so you can scurry along to the next amusement. You’ll be shifting in your seat and peering through your eyelashes while you’re in the theatre, but there really isn’t anything meaty to get your teeth into once you peel back the clever camera tricks.

Great horror films are often heralded as such because they make you unsettled in your very core as well as making your skin crawl; think of recent successes such as It Follows, The Babadook and The Witch. Unfortunately, Annabelle: Creation is more generic than this list and ends up placing somewhere firmly in the middle of the horror movie spectrum. Good but not great, I’d only recommend checking it out at the theatre if you’re a sucker for The Conjuring series and its lore or schlocky and clichéd horror in general.

Annabelle: Creation is available in Australian cinemas from August 10

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – It Comes At Night

A24 – the production company behind The Witch, Green Room and Tusk – continues to rescue the horror genre with the brooding and brain-befuddling It Comes at Night.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

The world has been plagued by an extremely contagious disease, forcing a surviving family – Paul (Joel Edgerton), his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) to live isolated in a house deep within the woods. When another survivor, Will (Christopher Abbott), breaks into their home claiming to be seeking supplies for his own wife and son, Paul is initially untrustworthy and intends to kill him. After some convincing he agrees to let Will’s family live with them temporarily, but suspicion, allegations, assumptions and the visions that haunt Travis at night soon create a great deal of tension between the families.

It would seem apt to recommend going into It Comes at Night with as little knowledge about it as possible, but the truth is you’re just as likely to come out the other side with as few scraps of information as what you went in with. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults’ (Krisha) second feature is ambiguous in every sense of the word, straight up avoiding anything resembling exposition, convention, backstory or explanation.

What Shults does make clear is his masterwork in atmosphere. Here’s a man with a deep understanding of what it takes to stage a successfully terrifying ambience, fully capable of suspense-building restraint and an awareness that the unknown is often far scarier than what we’re given. Things as simple as a dog barking at something we can’t see in the distant woods, or the red door that lurks at the end of a darkened corridor are dripping with dread, more often than not because we don’t know what lies beyond.

Subtle technical ticks are used to great effect, particularly the shift to a tighter aspect ratio whenever Travis experiences one of his horrifying visions. It’s such a tiny thing, but the mere sight of night coming and those black bars sliding slowly into place is enough to induce fear that something nasty is about to happen.

Shults is helped by a very game cast, especially Joel Edgerton in another apprehensive, dialled-back performance, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr., who will soon no doubt owe his breakout success to this. But Shults’ film is ultimately defined by two things – its unsettling feel and imagery, and the endless barrage of questions you’re left with afterwards.

For better or worse, it’s down to our own personal interpretation and what we choose to make of it. In this sense, It Comes at Night can’t quite manage the satisfaction of say, The Witch, but it is a breathlessly tense 90-minute terror ride.

It Comes At Night is available in Australian cinemas from July 6

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films


Movie Review – Hounds of Love

If you can stomach it, the trip to hell that is Hounds of Love is another chilling entry in the Australian suburban nightmare, and an impressive calling card for local filmmaker Ben Young.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

In 1980’s Perth, suburbanites go about their lives blissfully unaware that teenage girls are being abducted, sexually abused and murdered by a deeply disturbed married couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John White (Stephen Curry). 17-year-old Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is not coping well with her parents’ divorce, and one night sneaks out to head to a party. On the way she encounters the Whites, and in an innocent lapse in judgement is lured back to their, only to find herself chained to a bed and the next victim of the psychotic couple’s sick tradition.

Australian cinema tends to gravitate towards certain genres in which it finds expertise and innovation – primarily horror and familial melodrama. With local talent Ben Young’s thrilling directorial debut Hounds of Love, we’re about to become famed for another one – thrillers centred around kidnapping and hostage-holding. Being released so close to the similarly-themed Berlin Syndrome naturally draws immediate comparisons, but never to its detriment; Young’s film is unique enough and equally excellent in its own right.

Set quite literally in our own backyard, it’s chilling to think that a killer couple like this could be lurking right next door, and given their typical bogan demeanour, it’s highly believable too. Young ups the unpleasant levels to an uneasy extreme, and yet the film rarely feels gratuitous; much of the violence happens just out of frame, and we’re only given hints of the horrific sexual abuse, leaving it largely up to our imagination to conjure up the disturbing images. It’s effectively uncomfortable.

Unlike Teresa Palmer, who was given a more complex love-hate relationship with her tormentor in Berlin Syndrome, Ashleigh Cummings’ Vicki is a more straightforward captive, simply (and naturally) terrified to be held against her will. Fortunately, she’s an excellent scream queen, and is granted depth through her rocky relationship with her divorced parents, particularly her mother (a small but memorable part for Susie Porter).

A seedily-moustached Stephen Curry is detestably monstrous as John; his typically comedic acting sensibility turned on its ear in an intimidating turn as the chief perpetrator. Calm on the surface but capable of truly heinous things, he brings to mind Snowtown’s John Bunting. He’s the scene-stealer, but it’s Emma Booth in the most rewarding role as his madly-in-love but psychologically tormented and conflicted wife Evelyn. She’s massively layered, so crazy for John’s affection and desperate for children that she obeys his every twisted command, but simultaneously can’t escape her sympathy for Vicki, jealousy and contempt of John’s attraction to the younger girl. Booth is terrific at balancing all of this, and her arc is satisfying to watch unfold.

Granted, it can’t help but feel like it’s travelling along the lines of most movies about captors and captives at times, but Hounds of Love is among the genre’s most macabre. It’s frequently tense and unrelenting right up to (and especially in) its squirm-worthy finale. Ben Young knows how to make audiences dig their fingers into their armrests; Hollywood will no doubt know it soon too.

Hounds of Love is available in Australian cinemas from June 1st 

Image courtesy of Label Distribution

Movie Review – Get Out

You’ve heard all the hype, now hear from four Hooked On Film reviewers on May’s most anticipated film, Get Out.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury 

Directed by the second half of sketch comedy duo Key and Peele, Get Out is a riotous horror/thriller/comedy that begs and borrows from a whole range of influences to concoct something powerful and wholly enthralling from start to finish.

The film centres on Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), a mixed race couple who, after dating for a few months, decide to head upstate for a weekend with Rose’s family. Upon arriving it’s immediately obvious that something suss is about to go down; Rose’s parents are almost too accommodating. An uncomfortable pause here, a quick glace across the dinner table there; something isn’t right, but both the couple and the audience are having a hard time placing it.

Get Out is like a feature length episode of Black Mirror in that it lays out a paranoia-infused premise and dutifully sticks to it. Even when it dips into other territory, like biting black comedy or Hitchcockian suspense, it stays true to its central idea and executes it with aplomb. I honestly can’t praise this film enough; it’s meticulous and meaningful and feels watertight.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut does have its plot holes and conveniences here and there, but ultimately these are minor in comparison to the film’s accomplishments. As Rhys has mentioned, Get Out borrows from interesting premises we’ve seen before, and then turns it into something entirely fresh. It’s genuinely humorous when it needs to be, and utterly terrifying when it wants to be. The gradual build-up of tension creeps into your skin and sets you up for the fantastic conclusion.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Despite some inventive spins on genre tropes, creepy performances, and the obligatory jump scares, Get Out is not a truly scary movie. It’s undoubtedly ominous and eerie, and fear is subjective of course, but like many meta-horrors the air of self-awareness prevents true terror from settling in.

Fortunately, Peele makes up for this just about everywhere else, and in the process proves himself a surprising and exciting talent to watch out for. Racial dynamics are challenged and subverted to create a thriller that is consistently tense, engaging, flat-out entertaining and – best of all – stirringly original. There’s an irony to Get Out’s unanimously excellent reviews; it deftly skewers the type of people who accessorise progressiveness and political correctness to improve their image and attract attention, a category that an enormous chunk of modern critics and journalists fall into. It’s hard to argue too much with however, given that Get Out is, quite simply, an outstanding film.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

It is the kind of thriller that leads with misdirection and careful writing and acting. The plot is insignificant in the face of the movie’s techniques, which are employed almost exclusively to 1) lull us into a false sense of security, then 2) lead us astray, and finally 3) dim the lights and trap us in our own fears.

I enjoy a good thriller. Not many are made anymore. I enjoy a thriller even more when it has something to say and says it intelligently. As already pointed out, Get Out discusses the issues of race on levels so intricate and complex they could service a few scenes in Inception (2010). But this is a movie with personality in addition to brains. Chris is charming from under those sleepy but wary eyes. The Armitage household is friendly until friendliness no longer applies. It is important that we like Chris and fear the Armitages. I know I did, from the moment I met them both. In true Wicker Man (1973) fashion, Get Out is a movie that gradually builds sinister dread until it can no longer contain itself.

Get Out is available in Australian cinemas from May 4

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Split

A powerhouse performance from James McAvoy keeps Split from sinking – but only just.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

There was a point during the mid-noughties (roughly around the time that Lady in the Water sunk like a stone) that M Night Shyamalan’s less than favourable critical appraisals were something of a punchline. A series of duds that began with 2004’s The Village and ended with 2013’s After Earth certainly washed away any goodwill the world collectively felt towards Shyamalan for his impeccable work on 1999’s The Sixth Sense and 2000’s Unbreakable.

Since then, Shyamalan has retreated from the spotlight and returned to his forte; crafting grungy B-movie horror/thrillers that are dark, twisted and a little humorous. 2013’s The Visit showed promising signs; and his new movie Split continues this upward trajectory.

The movie concerns itself with Kevin (James McAvoy), a man who suffers with dissociative identity disorder – or a split personality to you and me. Kevin has 23 distinct personalities rattling around inside his noggin, from flamboyant fashionista Barry and violent OCD sufferer Dennis to prim and proper Patricia and 9-year-old kid Hedwig. Dennis decides to abduct Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy) and two of her classmates, locking them in an underground room where they are to await a grisly fate – being eaten by a mysterious entity only known as ‘The Beast’.

A solidly crafted psychological thriller, Split has at least one deadly arrow in its quiver in McAvoy. The Scottish actor brings menacing and nuanced emotion to the film, which allows the audience to distinguish between identities through something as small as a curled lip or head tilt.

McAvoy often has to switch personalities mid-conversation and on a couple of occasions in the same take; it might sound trivial but there is power in his ability to switch so effectively, darkening his brow when Dennis bubbles to the surface or summoning childlike innocence in Hedwig. It’s a committed role that requires a lot of physicality and he absolutely aces it.

Taylor-Joy is pretty good too, even if her character is too often forgotten about. Casey and her friends mainly just act as props for most of the movie, devoid of the urgency we saw in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character in 10 Cloverfield Lane or the emotion of Brie Larson’s in Room. Betty Buckley plays Dr Karen Fletcher, Kevin’s physiatrist, and her role is essentially to provide jargon that drives the plot forward – she might as well be called Dr Janet Exposition.

It’s also hard to ignore Split’s inherent flaw, which is that it uses mental illness as a byword for villainy. Granted, there is at least a vague attempt at framing Kevin as redeemable and Shyamalan does make an effort to comment on the lasting impacts of trauma and abuse – but it doesn’t resonate as strongly as it could have, sadly.

At the end of the day, Split will probably divide (or split, har har) opinions. It’s far from Shyamalan’s best work, but it does dish out some decent thrills and I wouldn’t dissuade fans of the director or genre from going to see it. Just strap yourself in for a good film plagued with problems (and a really dumb twist right at the end – but c’mon, it’s Shyamalan, what did you expect?)

Split is available in Australian cinemas from January 26

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Nocturnal Animals

Recalling Kubrick and Antonioni, Nocturnal Animals is haunting, beautiful and singular.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Charlie Lewis

It’s rare that you enter the final third of a movie with no idea how it will resolve. I don’t mean being able to predict exactly what will happen. Most films, good or bad, will approach their conclusion with a limited number of options – the criminal will be caught, or they won’t, the couple will overcome what has separated them, or they won’t – and the enjoyment comes from seeing how cleverly, unexpectedly or satisfyingly they make the journey to whichever option they’ve chosen. So as Nocturnal Animals wound down there was something thrilling about the open water feeling; not only was I not sure what would happen at the end, I didn’t know what could happen at the end. What would a satisfying conclusion even look like for these characters?

Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful gallery curator, living in her beautiful, empty house with her handsome, indifferent husband. She receives a package from her ex-husband, Ed (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she abandoned in “a horrible way”. It’s the manuscript of his first novel. It’s a violent, existential howl of brutality and revenge set it rural Texas. The book is dedicated to her, and its title comes from a nickname he gave her. Susan reads the book alone in her house, during her long bouts of insomnia. Whether she is thrilled or moved by the book, or she thinks it may represent some kind of veiled threat to her, we don’t know. It’s doubtful she does either.  Regardless, she can’t stop reading.

There’s a lovely interplay between reality and artifice here – the contrast between Susan’s empty urban comfort and the vivid cruelty of Ed’s book. Susan has become numb to the many lies she is living and Ed’s book is bracingly raw and honest.

Director Tom Ford is a master stylist, with his camera luxuriating on landscapes, interiors and the human form with equal pleasure. The cast is fantastic. Gyllenhaal plays the dual role of Ed and the main character in his novel. In both cases, you believe the character is capable of worse things than he’d like to admit.  Michael Shannon adds to his list of creepy authority figures and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is compellingly repellent as the chief antagonist. Adams especially is wonderful.

So is Nocturnal Animals a chilly relationship drama, a brutal thriller, a revenge horror film, or something else entirely? How the film resolves that question will madden some viewers, but it would be far more of a disappointment if a film this beautiful let its audience entirely off the hook.

Nocturnal Animals is available in Australian cinemas from November 10

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Movie Review – The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn returns with another exercise in style over substance – and I kinda loved it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Drenched in glitter, gold body paint and big cat fetishism, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is destined to divide audiences directly down the middle. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it for exactly the same reasons. Which side you fall on depends on your tolerance for abstract plotting, garish cinematography and on the nose messaging that screams, “this is symbolism!”

Elle Fanning plays Jesse, a 16-year-old small town girl with dreams of being a model, who moves to LA and finds herself swamped by an industry instantly captivated by her sharp doll-like visage and flawless porcelain skin. Living out of a seedy motel run by Hank (Keanu Reeves) and with the help of friendly make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone), Jesse’s arrival doesn’t go unnoticed by her peers; envious glances from Gigi (Australia’s Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (another Aussie Abbey Lee) signal their fears that their expiration date has already been and gone.

About halfway into the film, Alessandro Nivola’s fashion designer comments that “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” If that doesn’t spell out Refn’s intentions then and there, get out while you still can because this film isn’t for you. Like Refn’s 2013 effort Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon is all about style over substance.

It’s unashamedly artsy as fuck and doesn’t even attempt to disguise it. You’ll be entranced, repulsed and slightly aroused, sometimes all at the same time – an odd sensation that Refn would no doubt be delighted to discover his film was eliciting.

The pace is achingly slow, but the film itself is never boring. Every frame is lit, staged and composed with such meticulous purpose and lavish detail that the final product resembles a glossy fashion magazine sprung to life. Even when there isn’t much happening in terms of plot, Refn holds you in a hypnotic trance of colour and noise.

If nothing else, you can always marvel at Natasha Braier’s arresting cinematography or let Cliff Martinez’s pulsating cocktail of dark disco and honeyed synth invade your ears. Psychedelic kaleidoscopes and shimmering, dreamlike vistas compliment a plot that is purposely ambiguous and slight at first. Refn holds a lot in reserve before unleashing a batshit insane third act that strikes like a coiled snake waiting to lash out and sink its teeth.

Truth is, I could sit here all day and wax lyrical about this film until I’m blue in the face, but it wouldn’t make a lick of difference to roughly half of everyone who sees it. The simple fact is that a lot of people will be turned off The Neon Demon just as they have been in the past with Refn’s prior work. And whilst it isn’t quite an all-timer like Drive, it certainly outstrips whatever the hell was going on in Only God Forgives.

The Neon Demon is available in Australian cinemas from October 20

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Movie Review – The Girl On The Train

The Girl On The Train has a cast worth catching a ride for, but its frustrating filmmaking is better left at the station.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

From the window of the train she catches to and from New York every day, Rachel (Emily Blunt) – a bitter, self-destructive alcoholic – avoids looking at her visible old home, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) still lives happily with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their newborn child. Instead she focuses her attention on their neighbours Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), an attractive young couple she fantasises about and projects the perfect marriage she desperately wishes she still had. One day everything changes when Rachel witnesses Megan having an affair, not long before Megan is reported missing. An entangled web connecting everyone is uncovered, and Rachel begins to question her own involvement in the disappearance.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, since everyone has been so premature to make the comparison –Gone Girl this is not. Similar themes of infidelity, betrayal and violence within marital ties drew The Girl on the Train an immediate relation to David Fincher’s 2014 hit murder mystery; a success story the producers were no doubt hoping to recreate when the rights to adapt Paula Hawkins’ debut novel were acquired. It all seemed rather promising, but disappointingly Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get on Up) flat thriller packs a few too many problems on board that not only prevent it from touching GG’s irreverent finesse, but threaten to derail it completely.

First and foremost, it becomes clear early on that the diary-entry format of Hawkins’ book simply does not translate well to the silver screen; at least not without some artistic liberties that Taylor and co. have failed to capitalise on. On page there’s plenty of room to breathe and time to get to know these women and the men in their lives, but here we’re introduced to all six major players in a short space of time, challenging non-readers to keep up with the multitude of connections between each. There’s a bit too much content for too little a running time, forcing it to wind up very talky and expository, and intermittent flashbacks only further confuse an already convoluted story. This at least means there’s no opportunity for boredom – close attention is necessary to a near-exhausting level.

After an overstuffed setup, The Girl on the Train settles more comfortably into its middle stretch and becomes intriguing, as red herrings are thrown about and the mystery becomes a true curiosity. Tragically though, the answer becomes disappointingly obvious before the big twist is revealed, and it can’t help but feel unsatisfying and a little too convenient.

Thankfully, a quality cast keep this train on the tracks, even if they aren’t really given the characterisation they deserve. Emily Blunt is the obvious standout; even if she is perhaps a bit too pretty to play the detrimental Rachel, she’s sympathetic and gutsy enough to root for, for the most part. But the rest match her in their well suited roles; especially recent breakouts Rebecca Ferguson, the scornful new wife, and Haley Bennett, whose interesting backstory and fate is sadly undercut by the lack of impact her big moments need.

It all sounds rather negative, but truth be told The Girl on the Train is not terrible. Though frustrating and easy to pick apart upon reflection, the film is a trashy good time that does genuinely keep you hooked until its reveal.

The Girl On The Train is available in Australian cinemas from October 6

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films

Movie Review – Blair Witch

Just when you thought found footage was dead, we’ve come full circle back to where it all started – and it might actually make you shit your pants this time.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Two decades after his sister Heather went missing while shooting a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) discovers a YouTube video that appears to be new footage of her experiences in the woods. His curiosity finally getting the better of him, James convinces his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) to meet the uploader of the video and venture into the forest to investigate. Shooting a documentary of their own, they soon begin to regret their inquisitiveness as unsettling occurrences reveal the legend of the Blair Witch to be lamentably true.

Love it or loathe it, The Blair Witch Project has had an astounding impact since it took the world by storm back in 1999. Made on a shoestring budget and marketed as the product of a real event, not fiction, it broke the box office worldwide, popularised the found footage subgenre, and built fear by showing us as little as possible; leaving it up to our imaginations to conjure up the monster lurking in the darkness.

Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s (You’re Next, The Guest) surprise sequel Blair Witch is, save for the same story beats, almost entirely the opposite. Aware that the original’s guerrilla style, unglamorous techniques and slow pacing just isn’t going to cut it with modern horror audiences, they’ve glossed it up with an abundance of technology and made the scares considerably more frequent and in-your-face. Wingard and Barrett aren’t the least bit concerned with authenticity, or reinventing the wheel, or much of anything really; they’re simply here to do one thing – scare the pants off you.

Our team of amateur filmmakers assembles itself, learns of some of the sinister tales and legends of the Witch, then bravely journeys into the woods. It mirrors the setup of the first, only this time there’s twice as many teens to expend, and thus half the character development. Sadly, these bland kids are copied and pasted directly from the contemporary horror template, and none are given enough time to form any kind of characterisation; they’re simply there to articulate exposition. The familial link to the first film is flimsy and far-fetched, and begs the question of why James would be stupid enough to follow in the footsteps of his sister.

When things first start to go bump in the night, there’s a disheartening amount of cheap jump scares, but soon the threat becomes real and a supreme dread sets in. There’s been sixteen years of evolution in horror since the original and it’s all unleashed here. The sound department must be applauded for their design; this is the most impressively unnerving earful copped from a horror in years.

It’s frustratingly light on explanation, lacks the subtle smarts of its archetype and is a huge deal of substance short of achieving greatness, but it’s hard to complain too much when Blair Witch is what so many of its peers can only pretend to be – genuinely scary.

Blair Witch is available in Australian cinemas from September 15

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films